Sunday, March 15, 2015

Saturday in the Parks

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 15, 2015—Despite the awful weather in Hot Springs and the glorious atmospherics in South Florida Saturday, it was an excellent day of racing in both spots. Let’s begin locally.

On its face, it didn’t seem to be much of a Saturday-type card at Gulfstream Park, until the racing started that is.

There were no graded stakes, in fact, there were only two 75-granders, the kind of stakes program that only Mr. Corrow could love.

But as long as there are maiden allowance types all over the program and gates full of turf runners, Gulfstream Park will always have an attractive Saturday card for fans and bettors alike.

Speed was on display in both of Saturday’s stakes events and a young female sprinting star may have been born, a filly named Taylor S. Inside speed was good here yesterday and Corey Lanerie and his mount took full advantage.

“I told Corey try to get [the lead] at all costs the first eighth of a mile,” said trainer Dale Romans post-race. “There was a lot of speed outside and I didn’t want her buried on the inside.”

So off she went in 21.99 and 44.76, getting the trip in 1:09.75. Another nice filly named Dogwood Trail had her in her sights at headstretch via a good trip from third but could not narrow the leader’s margin.

“Her pedigree says she can run long,” Romans added later. “She’s the real deal. She’s a very talented filly, maybe the most talented I’ve had.”

Fast Down Under

Renowned international handicapper Nick Mordin has always said that, on balance, the best sprinters in the world come from Australia. Well, say hello to my gelded gray friend, Power Alert.

In the co-featured Silks Run, the Brian Lynch owned and trained speedster not only proved his winning debut earlier this meet was no fluke, but that there indeed was more in the tank.

News Flash: Lynch and Julien Leparoux still haven’t reached the bottom.

“With our post outside we were able to control the race,” Leparoux said. “We were in the clear. He’s a nice horse and ran big.”

Julien Leparoux was very pleased
with Power Alert's run

“It was very exciting,” Lynch said. “I’m glad we gave him a little time in between races. This sets him up for opening weekend at Keeneland.”

Stalking the speed in hand from his advantageous position, Power Alert collared the speed, took command at headstretch, and never was seriously threatened in the lane.

“He won nicely and I don’t think [Julien] had to ride him too hard,” the trainer added. The final time for five furlongs over firm turf was 55.80 seconds. “I don’t think [the effort] taxed him.”

And that’s a good thing. The waters will get deeper in the Grade 3 Shakertown April 4.

Good Thing Gets Bad Trip, Wins Anyway: The wise guys bet early and often and the debuting Donworth didn’t let them down, although Joel Rosario almost did.

The offspring of Tiznow are not known for their precocity and Graham Motion isn’t exactly Todd Pletcher when it comes to saddling winning first-time starters.

Well, not only was Donworth bet into the teeth of a strong, uncoupled Pletcher entry including the fast Sir Alfred in the rolling double, but he opened 2-5 straight and stayed there until just before the horses entered the ring, eventually “blowing out” to 8-5 ante post.

He won by a neck but was much the best horse. (The chart footnote does no justice to the trip, so check the replay of Saturday’s ninth race from Gulfstream for yourself).

After breaking a tad flat-footed from the inside—not an easy assignment, especially at 7 furlongs or a mile here—Rosario quarter-horsed him up into a contending spot along the inside.

Approaching the far turn, Rosario was forced to check Donworth when heralded 7-pound apprentice Eric Cancel tightened it up on his rival approaching the far turn, causing Rosario to check out of what could have been a disastrous spot on the fence.

After regaining his stride and forward momentum on his own, Rosario angled Donworth out sharply from the 2-path at headstretch, set sail for Sir Alfred, and gamely wore him down by a neck in the final strides despite being herded. He galloped out nicely past the wire.

The almost black colt appeared is as big--perhaps even bigger--than Dortmund, and is from the Street Cry mare, Temple Street, got the distance in 1:23.75, showing talent and uncommon class in the process.

Cancel, despite bringing Sir Alfred out to meet Donworth in the final furlong, had the temerity to claim foul after appearing to be the perpetrator.

I wouldn’t be shocked—or maybe I should be—if the stewards took some action against the youngster for making a frivolous foul claim and riding a little carelessly. It’s more likely he’ll get off with a strong warning.

No Day at the Beach for Champion’s Return

Oh, there was plenty of water alright, but it didn’t appear to be to the liking of 2014’s three year old filly Champion Untapable.

To their credit, neither trainer Steve Asmussen nor jockey Johnny Velazquez would place heavy blame on yesterday’s second-place finish to Gold Medal Dancer on the wet surface though they did acknowledge it.

“The track was a little heavy and it was a bit of a concern coming off the layoff, being unable to get her up here and have a work over the track,” Asmussen said. “As long as she comes out OK, we’ll be happy with this effort.” As he should be.

“I was happy where I was,” Velazquez said. “Coming down the lane she was a little hesitant. It was her first time on a wet track but take nothing from the winner, she’s a nice horse.”

That she is, and trainer Donnie Von Hemel got excellent handling from Gold Medal Dancer’s rider, Luis Quinones, who rated his mount beautifully in front throughout. But it was the filly who lowered her body in deep stretch and wouldn’t let the champ by.

From her comfortable stalking position, Untapable was climbing soon after entering the backstretch and took a while to level off into a rhythm. At the three-sixteenths pole she was in gear, made a run, but could not get by the first filly to defeat her since the Hollywood Starlet in December of 2013.

“I just tried to get her to relax,” said Quinones. “She came out of the gates relaxed and I just let her do it. I said wait, wait, wait and when that other horse came to her, she wouldn’t let her by.”

“It's very exciting and the mare just ran a huge race,” said Von Hemel. “It was a team effort and I am thrilled to death. She fought off the champion and she showed a lot of heart.”

That she did. Looking forward to a possible rematch in the Apple Blossom.

Bets n’ Pieces: Race Day was a game winner of the Razorback, prevailing narrowly following a hard drive. “I thought Midnight Hawk might get by him a couple of times but he dug in,” said Pletcher assistant Adele Bellinger. “Johnny [Velazquez] gave him a beautiful ride…”

And, no, we didn’t bury Saturday’s lead. We will cover the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in Monday’s Week 2 edition of HRI’s Derby Power 10.

File Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Racetrack Is Tough, Reality Much Tougher

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 12, 2015—If racetrackers listen carefully, they probably can hear “Wolfie” growling somewhere. Or is that howling, or scowling, snarling or grimacing.

The Wolf, also known a Richard McCarthy, a racetrack lifer, passed away in his sleep last week. I didn’t ask his lady, Louisa, his age, which I learned later was 68.

I only know that he was on the planet for a shorter period of time than I, yet another friend gone way too soon.

Those daggers he threw, like his attitude, were defense mechanisms that hid the sweet, loyal man beneath the gruff exterior: In that fashion, if there were a bellicosity match race, he and Paul Moran would have finished in a dead heat.

Believe it or not, Wolfie left the game in a better state than he found it. At once, happily but unfortunately, his illness separated him from the sport in the last few years, which was just as well given the current state of affairs.

The last time I saw the Wolfman, we were playing horses and swapping lies at the Saratoga harness track simulcasts, and he never wavered; he was just as cynical as ever.

Wolfie was a connoisseur of good food and drink, no surprise given his New Orleans roots. He came over the house one dark racing day and showed me how to make a rue after shopping for the ingredients together after the morning’s workouts.

He introduced me to my first single malt scotch and on winning days it was Macallan 18, not the every winter’s day 12-year-old variety.

He was a movie raconteur, loving nothing more than to find a diamond in the rough; he turned me on to “In Bruges.” He was the first to tell me about the very scary “Malky” Logan character in “Sexy Beast,” and one night we went into town to hear the best Swamp Rock band ever, The New Orleans Radiators.

But he saved his best work for the racetrack.

We met in the early 1980s and he brought two earnest skills to the game, first as a clocker, later rising to the rank of supervisor, and he ended his career as chart caller extraordinaire for Equibase at the New York tracks.

If he saw something he didn’t like, which happened often, at least in his view, you read about it in the chart footnote. When he wrote something like “was ridden out and finished well after the fact” you didn’t need to see a replay to know what he was talking about.

My personal Wolfie fave was “carefully handled to secure the place.” In any case, he raised the level of the chart footnote, a tradition his good friend and protégé, “Danny K,” has continued.

To my knowledge—and that’s neither non-denial denial nor left-handed compliment—he never put a workout in his pocket. I recommended him to the Newsday sports department and they hired him to provide his insights to Long Island readers.

It was heady times for racing in that era. At the time when Newsday made an ill-fated incursion into New York City, we had, in my opinion, the metro area’s biggest and best horse racing staff.

Talents such as Mark Berner, providing bettors with notable gallop-out times; Brad Thomas and Marc Siegelaub, who kept the horse racing pot boiling feverishly on a daily basis.

And the best reporters--Ed Comerford, who followed the prolific, legendary reporter/columnist Bill Nack, then dual Eclipse-winning wordsmith Moran, covering Thoroughbred racing by day--with the best racing-desk-man and NFL-Recap writer ever, Ed McNamara, cleaning up our copy by night.

It was a real privilege to be a part of that team.

But don’t take my word about Wolfie: Ask Andy Beyer about him, ask him about the runner-up in Swale’s 1984 Belmont Stakes, longshot Pine Circle, about who provided the workout info and what the exacta paid. Never mind Imus, it was Wolfie in the Morning.

Richard McCarthy was a horseplayer’s best friend long before that distinction became the fashion.

For all his bluster I never did hear him raise his voice in anger, although I’m sure he did. He was no saint, only a loyal friend to many who will be missed more than he could imagine.

See ya’, Wolf.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Many Super Performances, But Some Real Clunkers, Too

HALLANDALE BEACH, March 8, 2015—With so much going on Saturday, it’s hard to know where to begin. So why not start at the top? And that’s going to be with America’s best dirt horse, Shared Belief.

We understand that it wasn’t the greatest cast ever assembled for the Santa Anita Handicap, but would it have truly mattered? After all, it wasn’t that long ago when he defeated the Horse of the Year 2014 after it appeared that California Chrome would hold him safe.

Yeah, all rivals hold him safe until he lowers that little body of his, drops his head, and goes after them…with a vengeance. With more handicap races in his future, his connections didn’t want to win by too far, Mike Smith said afterward.

And so Smith kept the margin “down” to 4-1/4 lengths, but when you run a mile and a quarter in 2:00.67, even in Southern California, you will cause to separation.

Shared Belief dominated and won geared down. Don’t want to get to hyperbolic here; simply suffice it to say that if he can keep those sore tootsies of his from barking too loudly, it’s impossible to conjure up another horse that might finish ahead of him.

Earlier on the Santa Anita program, Dortmund remained undefeated but he had a lot of help.

As the San Felipe unfolded, it appeared that every major contender in the race was using the 1-1/16 miles as a bridge to the Santa Anita Derby which, of course, is its purpose.

But it would have been nice to see another rival, any rival, make his work for it. Sure, Bolo did on the far turn, but splits of 23.12, 46.98, and 1:11.30? Really? At Santa Anita? So jockey Martin Garcia just sat chilly until challenged.

But by the time Bolo made his presence felt, it was too late. Same for Prospect Park, but at least he made a good late run. But as for Ocho Ocho Ocho, the Seis Seis Seis must have made him run like that.

Trainer Jim Cassidy said he missed a work with him, but to run that badly? Mike Smith didn’t appear all that inspired to test him, either. The colt likely will be a different horse in the Santa Anita Derby. He had better be.

At least Daredevil was a little better in his seasonal debut in the Swale earlier in the day and 3,000 miles to the East, but not by all that much. He finished second but truly never really was into the bridle, ridden hard by Javier Castellano to stay with the talented sprinter Ready for Rye, but he couldn’t cut into the winner's advantage.

Ready for Rye was very good for Tom Albertrani, who broke out of a slump in a big way yesterday. He would have saddled four on the day but Todd Pletcher got his revenge when Chipit made a winning debut to nail Fitzgerald in the shadow of the wire in a maiden allowances an hour later.

Trainer Tom Albertrani breaks
out in a big way

Speaking of equine revenge, El Kabeir was vindicated when, finally, the connections took him back off the pace, the colt gaining full momentum into the stretch to sweep by Aqueduct's Gotham field inside the final furlong.

He just had to be better than his disappointing Withers indicated, and he was; education fully complete. Tiz Shea D was a very game second coming up the rail late to nail down the place while coming off a single 5-1/2 furlong maiden win in his Parx debut.

Classy Class figured to improve and did, but he had absolutely no excuses in the place department.

In Northern Florida, meanwhile, Carpe Diem, despite his reluctance to load into the gate, put in an awesome run, ridden out but winning with energy in reserve to win his season’s debut in the Tampa Bay Derby by 5 lengths over Ami’s Flatter, with 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.60, a final sixteenth in 06:38. The time was a few ticks off the stakes record.

Strong second favorite Ocean Knight was bumped at the break, was in perfect position in mid-backstretch, but not only didn’t mount a threat, he needed Irad Ortiz Jr. to take care of him the final three-eighths of a mile left to run. He finished, 63-¾ lengths behind his co-owned mate.

He had a bit of an off day, said Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables afterward, which co-owns Carpe Diem with Winstar Farm.

But that would be like saying Shared Belief won the Big ‘Cap in workmanlike fashion.

The formerly undefeated Curlin colt shows up in the next Derby prep, then put a line through his Tampa Derby non-effort. If he doesn’t, there’s certainly more to the story.

File Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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